Thursday, March 29, 2012


Even as a delirious, sleep-deprived mother of a 10-week-old boy, I read Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews in two days!

What makes it so awesome?

1. Our narrator, Greg, a senior in high school, behaves the way a real person would, teenager or no. I LOVE THAT. Upon hearing that his sort-of ex-girlfriend from middle school has leukemia, and that his mother wants him to reach out to her, here's how he reacts: "Urgh!"

Mostly, he's inconvenienced by Rachel's imminent demise, claiming several times that it, and their forced friendship, has "ruined" his life. This is how people think. As a result, I wasn't thrown out of the story by a perfect protagonist, yet Greg remains sympathetic because he genuinely tries to keep Rachel's spirits up by going over to her house every day and making her laugh.

2. Different scenes are presented in different formats, such as screenplay style, bullet points, or outlines. Besides being hilarious, it keeps information brisk and entertaining. Even descriptions of the movies Greg and Earl make are written like quick film reviews, with star ratings at the end.

3. The whole book is funny as hell. My favorite part is when (minor spoiler alert or whatever) normally straitlaced Greg and (less straitlaced) Earl accidentally get high after drinking their favorite teacher's mysterious soup. HAAAA! And then they can't decipher a text message, and it cracked me up like crazy.

4. Greg regularly breaks the fourth wall, referencing the fact that we're reading something "he" wrote, and how awful the book is, and how it may cause us to "want to do a homicide."

If you're looking for a YA book that works on about a thousand levels, add Earl to your list.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mad Men 5x1: A Bold Bean Ballet

This season started like a squillion months late, but here we are! As usual, I'll be rating new episodes of Mad Men based not on the quality of the show -- which tends to be uniformly high --  but on how suicidal it makes the viewer.

Using a scale of 1 to 5 razor blades, I'll discuss the most depressing aspects of the program. It doesn't help that the show airs late-ish on Sunday nights, when most of us are already quivering wrecks of dread anticipating the work week ahead of us.

However, last night's two-hour season premiere really wasn't particularly depressing.

I mean, black protestors getting hit with water bombs from an office building was certainly depressing; a wrecked, exhausted-looking Joan fighting with her mother was depressing; and Pryce's lack of respect toward his black cab driver was uber depressing; but Crane describing what he'd do to Zou Bisou Bisou was more funny than depressing (though not from Megan's perspective I guess). In fact the entire episode was more funny than anything else.


1) Roger Sterling: "Why don't you sing like that?"
Jane Sterling: "Why don't you look like him?"

2) Everyone playing a frantic round of Pass the Baby when Joan stopped by

3) Pete's power play against Roger that sent Roger to the Staten Island Ferry at 6 am

4) All the partners squished on the couch in Pete's office (where they couldn't even smoke to deal with the situation!)

5) Megan summing up the rest of the cast with this reasonably astute assessment: "They don't smile; they smirk."

6) Pryce has what amounts to phone sex with Dolores, of the lost wallet; and Don and Megan play a kinda weird "you can't look at me while I clean in my underthings" sex game.

So all in all, 2 razor blades out of 5. Which is probably for the best, because with a double episode you really don't want more than a 3 rating. Still, I was a tad disappointed that no one got drunker at the surprise party. This is Mad Men, after all. I was probably drunker than any of the characters, and I was only sipping wine.

Question: was the wallet owner supposed to be a mobster?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Results of my First Book Giveaway

Thanks to everyone who participated in the lottery* to win a copy of Samuel Park's terrific historical novel, THIS BURNS MY HEART.

I put numbers in a hat and pulled out #8, Julie Musil. Congratulations! Please DM or email me your address.

I also asked commenters to list their favorite historical novels. Mine is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. (Have you seen my coming-of-age smackdown analysis of Scout vs Francie?)

Here's what others said, if you're into that sort of thing (bulking up your To-Read lists):

  • BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Ruta Sepetys
  • THE DOVERKEEPERS by Alice Hoffman
  • THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett
  • Anything by Phillipa Gregory (like THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL)
  • ORCHID HOUSE by Lucinda Riley
  • GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
  • THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak (three votes)
  • JOSEPHINE BONAPARTE series by Sandra Gulland
  • FOREVER AMBER by Kathleen Winsor
  • SHOGUN by James Clavell
*Whenever I see the word lottery now, I think of that gut-wrenching scene in Waiting for Superman.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Guest Blog & Giveaway! Novelist Samuel Park ("This Burns My Heart") Discusses His Heroine's Tough Choices

I'm excited to welcome Samuel Park to my blog today. To celebrate the paperback release of his highly acclaimed historical novel, THIS BURNS MY HEART, I'm hosting my first giveaway!

I read HEART in hardcover last year and found it to be gorgeously written, cinematic, and completely absorbing. Samuel graciously agreed to share his thoughts on the book's controversial heroine, Soo Ja, whose unhappy marriage in 1960s South Korea forms the basis of the story. I also asked him to discuss his research methods, since his descriptions and style immersed me in the time period.

Without further ado, take it away, Sam...

Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for having me on your blog. I’m thrilled to be here.

You asked me to write about a character making tough, compelling choices that may be difficult for readers.

I suspect you asked me that question because the heroine of my book, Soo-Ja, makes a seriously bad choice at the beginning of the book. At that point, the reader either throws the book away in frustration, or plunges deep into the narrative, to see how it all turns out. As the author of the book, of course I always hope it’s the latter.

But I like that you asked that because it’s something that often comes up in discussions of the book. A lot of readers, to be honest, disagree with a lot of her choices, and find her maddening. Still, I think that’s what makes her seem human and three-dimensional—we’ve all made terrible choices, and wondered how to make them work. And that’s sort of the theme of the book: the permanence of choice. Are we stuck with the consequences of our choices, or can we find a way to undo them?

To make that work, I think you have to lay the groundwork to make her choice seem plausible. The choice can’t be a clearly bad one. The character has to lack some vital information that the reader has. It has to make it seem like she’s doing the right thing in the situation.

Then, you have to make it clear why she makes the choice, and you have to make it seem practically inevitable. I think this is when human psychology comes in. So often, we do things that are self-defeating, and against our own interests. How many of us have chosen the wrong person to date, or said/did something that sank our prospects at work? I think Soo-Ja is a version of that, but in a grand scale. I think part of the reason Soo-Ja’s story resonates with people is that it’s about a universal theme—disillusionment in marriage. No matter how great the partner you pick is, no matter how terrific your relationship is, the dirty little secret of marriage is that a lot of people find it a bit disappointing. In other words, no matter who you choose, you feel slightly letdown. Soo-Ja’s is just an extreme version of that.

Your second question was about my research methods and integrating real life into a story. I think that balancing the demands of fiction with fidelity to real life can be very tricky. Basically, I took some elements of my mother’s life and fictionalized it. I would create composite characters, or tie together events that actually happened months, or even years apart. I made up a tremendous amount, and the book is certainly a work of the imagination. However, the part where I borrowed the most from real life was in terms of the motivation and the psychology of the characters, as well as the dynamics between different characters.

Also, I think when you borrow from real life, you borrow not just a certain truthfulness that can’t be faked, but also a certain investment in the material that otherwise might not be there. In other words, I ended up investing these characters with some of the same love, curiosity, and interest that I feel for the real life people who inspired them.

Finally, when people talk about research, they usually mean the books and articles they read. But what about the emotional research? The feelings, fears, and anxieties associated with that society, that period, or that country? I tried to really pay attention to how I felt emotionally about the locations and situations I was writing about, as ultimately the emotional truth gives the reader a much more fulfilling experience than when you just focus on getting facts right.

Thanks again for hosting me on your blog, Sarah! It’s been a pleasure! And I wish the best to everyone who is entering the giveaway!  

Originally born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Korean-American author Samuel Park is the author of THIS BURNS MY HEART, which was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011, a People magazine “Great Reads in Fiction,” and one of the Today Show’s “Favorite Things.” THIS BURNS MY HEART was also a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Fiction of 2011, a BookPage Best Book of 2011, and an Indie Next List Notable Book.

THIS BURNS MY HEART is just out on paperback and is going to be a Starbucks Bookish Reading Club selection starting the week of March 13. The promotion allows Starbucks customers to read the book for free for 2 weeks when signed into the Starbucks Digital Network at the stores. The book is also going to be in the Target Emerging authors program.


Intrigued? Enter my giveaway to win a copy of this terrific book. Simply comment below, stating you'd like to enter the contest, and -- if you're so inclined -- please tell me the title and author of your favorite historical novel.

I'll pick a winner out of a virtual hat next Thursday and mail him or her a copy of THIS BURNS MY HEART (international shipping is fine, too).

Good luck!